The American Way by John Ridley & Georges Jeanty

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Written by John Ridley
Penciled by Georges Jeanty
Inked by Karl Story and Ray Snyder
Published by Wildstorm Productions/DC Comics

Author/screenwriter John Ridley has gotten a lot of acclaim recently for writing the hit film 12 Years A Slave, for which he also won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay, he also wrote George Lucas’ Red Tails (which I didn’t really care for), but back in 2006 he created and wrote this 8-issue comic-book miniseries for Wildstorm. Taking place in the 1960’s, in the early days of the Kennedy Administration, the series opens by introducing us to Wes Chatham our POV character and narrator. He’s a successful ad executive, whose is showing off a new car that he created an ad campaign for, when an alien monster attacks downtown NY and he and his pregnant wife Kate are caught in the turmoil. Luckily they and everyone else is saved by the arrival of the Civil Defense Corp., a team of American superheroes. In the aftermath of the attack, Wes is fired and accepts a job offer from his old school friend, Bobby Kennedy. Kennedy hands Wes some secret files which show Wes that the Civil Defense Corp. is really an elaborate secret program created by the U.S. Government. For decades (it goes back at least to Truman) the government created superhumans, some to play superheroes and some to play supervillains, and staged fights that the heroes would always win, as a way of giving the American public some role models to look up to. Although he is appalled by the mass deception, Wes reluctantly takes the job to oversee the program and help stage fights and handle PR for the team.

After a few initial successes one of the older superheroes dies of a heart attack during one of the staged fights, so the program needs to create a new hero to replace him. Wes comes up with an idea of creating a Black superhero. So they pick an ex-soldier named Jason Fisher, and he is  genetically enhanced to have super-strength and invulnerability. Except they make a point of limiting his powers, so that even though his skin is invulnerable, he still can feel pain. So if he’s shot, the bullet will bounce off of him, but it hurts. Wes suspects that this was done intentionally to keep a Black man from being too powerful to control, although that is never confirmed. Jason gets the superhero name NEW AMERICAN, with a costume that covers his entire body, including his face, so that the public doesn’t know that he’s Black. The plan was to have him become accepted by the public as a superhero first, before revealing his ID to the public. Even the other heroes in the Civil Defense Corp. don’t know that he’s Black. Jason soon makes his debut as New American by saving the President from a fake assassination.

But then trouble erupts. One of the Civil Defense Force goes nuts and kills his own family. The rest of the team have to bring him in and during a fight in front of the Washington Monument New American’s mask comes off and everyone sees that he’s a Black man. Not only does this cause panic among some of the public, but it causes a huge fight between the team, as half of the superheroes are racist and refuse to work with a Black man. They quit the program and set up their own rival super-team, the Southern Defense Corp. And that’s when the you-know-what really hits the fan in this series. The government tries to distract from the friction between heroes by unleashing a homicidal supervillain named Hellbent, but then he goes rogue and goes on a massive killing spree, including killing Civil Rights activists, which enrages New American, who wants revenge. Wes is desperately trying to contain all this conflict, while also dealing with a nosey reporter who is close to uncovering the conspiracy behind the program, and all of the time he has to spend at work causes trouble in his own home life. There are a few other little subplots, but I don’t want to spoil too much, including how this ends.

Wes is written as a perfect “everyman” sort of character, trying to maintain his idealism in an increasingly cynical world. There are a few little story flaws that I noticed. The character of Jason Fisher comes off as so militant that it’s hard to accept that the program would ever have selected him for this role. When he’s first interviewed by Wes, Jason shouts about the Tuskegee experiments. How the heck would he have known about that back then? There’s also some other language that feels out of place for a story that ends in 1962, such as liberals being described as “progressives” and there’s even a reference to the “liberal media.” And I will also say that the racist superheroes are written a little over-the-top at times, making them seem too one-dimensional. But despite those small criticisms, overall this is a good series, that plays out well until the end, keeping you engrossed. Georges Jeanty does a great job on the artwork here, it’s beautiful. I definitely recommend this series.

 

THE AMERICAN WAY

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